In 2009,Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one room schoolhouse. It was a tribute to his mother; she was a teacher who loved to read. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS. Rick Brooks of UW-Madison saw Bol’s do-it-yourself project while they were discussing potential social enterprises. Together, the two saw opportunities to achieve a variety of goals for the common good. Each brought different skills to the effort. Bol was a creative artisan experienced with innovative enterprise models; Brooks was a youth and community development educator with a background in social marketing. They were inspired by many different ideas:
- Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries around the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
- The heroic achievements of Miss Lutie Stearns, a librarian who brought books to nearly 1400 locations in Wisconsin through “traveling little libraries” between 1895 and 1914.
- “Take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and public spaces.
- Neighborhood kiosks, TimeBanking and community gift-sharing networks
- Grassroots empowerment movements in Sri Lanka, India and other countries worldwide.
By the summer of 2010, the mission of the little boxes of books was becoming clear. The original Library models were built with recycled materials. Each Library was unique, but all shared the theme of exchanging good books and bringing people together.
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